GUIDING LIGHT: CAREER COUNSELLORS
GREAT LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS
THE Career Industry Council of Australia (CICA) estimates that 800,000 students are set to graduate high school over the next three years. The pressure is on to make sure our youth are equipped to make well-informed life and career choices after school.
Research released by CICA mid-2017 indicated that career practitioners need more time and resources to provide adequate support to students. Now, a much-needed Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry is underway to determine how best to deliver career advice in schools.
Currently the Federal Government’s National Career Education Strategy includes an investment of $3 million and the Australian Blueprint for Career Development; a framework for designing, implementing, and evaluating career development programs.
This strategy aims to develop skills, planned learning experiences, strengthen school-employer collaborations and quality of information – but it may not be enough.
In Victoria, career advisors can be either leading teachers, classroom teachers, or education support but there is no requirement for a specific careers advisor.
Many schools may not have the budget to employ a dedicated careers specialist.
Mission Australia’s The Youth Survey Report (2017) showed that while parents have the most influence on a student’s career choices, career advisors have a significant impact.
The report also stated that the most effective forms of career development were interviews with a careers advisor, work experience, vocational education and training, and university, TAFE or other RTO open days.
But with less than half of Australia’s school career practitioners employed full time the question remains – what time and resources are available to implement these activities?
Suzanne Cory High School (VIC) is the perfect example of a practical and efficient careers education program employing a dedicated careers specialist.
Principal Colin Axup believes schools are obligated to provide adequate careers guidance for students.
“You not only need to have the human capacity – the staff – to provide the guidance, but you also need to provide the time for the guidance,” Mr Axup said.
“The school has a responsibility to ensure that there are careers practitioners available for students to access in a timely manner.”
Mr Axup went to the parliamentary committee inquiry as part of the Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals and said he was asked about the difficulty of getting careers practitioners into schools.
“I took the approach of grow your own – we identified people who had the interest and the aptitude for the task and then gave them the academic training,” he said.
Currently there is no specific qualification required for careers advisors in government schools, and while the Victorian State Governments study grant program, which subsidised the costs of careers advisors obtaining a tertiary qualification, ended in 2014, Mr Axup believes it’s worth the investment.
“Both Brendan (who is a qualified teacher but not employed as one) and Lena our careers practitioners are doing, or have nearly completed, the RMIT Graduate Certificate in Careers Education and Development course which is probably the best one to do because it can be done online, self-paced,” he said.
Careers Advisor Brendan Taig said there are lots of career practitioner seminars run by universities if selection processes change, for example, but that the school needs to allow staff to take the time to upskill and undertake further training.
“There’s always opportunities available, but the school needs to be supportive of the careers practitioners being out of the school sometimes to freshen up their skills. We’re very fortunate here that we have the allocations and resources in place to be able to do that,” he said.
The main challenge for schools is resources for career education; not just the time required.
Principal Colin Axup said he had made a conscious decision to ensure that the school had more than one careers practitioner in the school for students in years 9 to 12, all of whom are heading towards university.
“With 875 students one person was never going to be enough to do it properly,” he said.
The decision was made by the school – not the education department or the Government – to allocate resources for a specific number of funded careers advisor roles for a specific number of students.
“It becomes a school decision about the degree to which they provide careers support,” Mr Axup said.
Mr Axup and Mr Taig agreed that schools needed to navigate parental input when providing careers advice to students.
At Suzanne Cory High School parental involvement in career pathways are broken into two.
Firstly, the school holds information sessions for parents and students to discuss subject choices that are enjoyable – basing subject choice around the big picture will probably lead down a particular career path.
Next Mr Taig completes one-on-one interviews with students and their parents, however sometimes parents can be misguided about a particular pathway and the students are better able to express themselves on their own.
“We often ask – what do you parents think about your decisions or ideas? Have you spoken to them? What could you say? Quite often students say ‘mum and dad want me to do this but I don’t really want to do that’,” Mr Taig said.
“It’s more about giving students some tools so they can have really meaningful discussions about what their path is. Instead of being scared of having that conversation, they have the resources and the confidence to explain their reasoning,” he said.
“Parents want what’s best for their kids and they want their kids to be happy, healthy and have a good life but they might just be a bit confused about what that is.”
Mr Axup said it’s a challenge for schools and career advisors to have conversations with kids in year 9 because they are already making decisions about what they want to do, and what subjects they need to study to get there.
“The challenge is to give them information about what the options are – to diffuse the notions of what they think particular careers are about, or more importantly to ask them the question; why?” Mr Axup said.
“Because from my perspective as a principal – and I will constantly say this to parents and students alike – they need to follow a pathway of subjects that they enjoy doing because this is what they’re going to be doing for the rest of their life,” he said.
Mr Taig believes that visits from universities and employers are valuable to help break the myths around particular careers.
“If they [students] can hear it from somebody who’s in a particular job it prompts them to think about careers they might not have considered,” he said.
Recently Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel bemoaned the lack of maths and science prerequisites for university courses, suggesting that if students didn’t study a particular level of maths they would, for example, be shut off from pursuing an engineering degree.
While a viable point, Mr Taig said it’s important for kids to realise there is no one set path to a career and even if you study the highest level maths it doesn’t mean you have to pursue that career.
“We need to ask students why it’s important to them. That’s often very confronting for students because they don’t practice reflection very much,” he said.
“It’s almost like helping them to build a skill and a skill set so they can make career decisions, not just in terms of subject choice but so they have good decision making skills in life.”
While there is clearly great benefits to having a dedicated careers advisor, the question comes back to the time and resources required to implement a school-wide approach.
“From an organisational perspective, there’s lots and lots of skills we could teach students – but when?” Mr Axup said.
“If there were 48 hours in a day and 104 weeks in a year we might just about teach everything that everybody wants us to teach the kids.”
With this in mind, the school subscribes to just-in-time as opposed to just-in-case training.
“Just-in-time is often better than just-in-case because if you teach somebody how to use a computer program and they don’t use it for the next six months, when they go to use it they will have forgotten,” Mr Axup said.
“I think sometimes careers education is the same. If you took the interview skills process or being able to write a good CV, I see that as just-in-time training not just-in-case because you want it to be as fresh in their minds as possible.”
The Parliamentary Inquiry Report will be released later this year.
“It’s more about giving students some tools so they can have really meaningful discussions about what their path is.”
Suzanne Cory High School (VIC) Careers Advisor Brendan Taig.